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Age. 63
Gender. Male
Ethnicity. JA
Location Vienna, VA
School. UC, Los Angeles
» More info.
Onigiriman Philosophy
We are the sum total of our individual experiences. As a result, everything we think, interpret and say is tainted. While we may try to offer objective "facts", these facts are inevitably arranged and presented through the prism of our own experiences, and as such it is our own subjective perspective of the truth.

July 2019

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Unexpected encounters
Friday. 7.25.08 4:44 pm

Have you ever encountered someone you haven't seen in a while at the most unexpected place? When M came home from Japan last month, she ran into the grandmother of one of students/clients at Narita airport. Actually, she didn't really run into her. M had forgotten to fill out some kind of form for the ANA and they had been paging her throughout the airport. Apparently the grandmother heard the name and deduced that they were going to be on the same plane home. Can you imagine M's surprise when the grandmother came up to her in flight? Hi. Long time no see. I'm the kind who would have freaked out.

This seems to occur frequently within the "Japan" community--and probably in other Asian communities as well? I don't necessarily mean Japanese Americans either. I have had students--who are not necessarily of Japanese heritage--who have met classmates randomly in Roppongi or Ginza in Tokyo. I met a student of mine from UCLA at a hardware store in Tokyo once. That was really weird. I even met a former elementary school-mate and boy scout patrol member on a bus in Mitaka. It was was really random so we celebrated by doing what most people do in Japan when they meet an old buddy: Get shit faced.

I had gone to visit a girl I used to date in Mitaka--near Kichijouchi--but she wasn't home so felt rather  rather sad. As I sat in the bus to the station on my way home, some called to me in English.

"Ray? Is that you?"

"JU? Woah1 What are you doing here?"

"I'm a ryuakusei at ICU."

"Man, I haven't seen you since when? Boy scouts? Karate?"

"About six years, I guess, huh."

"Man, no shit." Kinda lonely about not being able to see an old flame, I thought it would be fun to hang with JU, who was a couple of years younger than me. He was in the same patrol--the Firebirds--in our Boy Scout troop and we also took Shotokan Karate together at our church. "So what you doing now? Got a date? Going to work?"

"No, I was just going to go to the station and do some shopping."

"Screw that. Let's go to Shinjuku and get a drink. My treat."

"Yeah, alright!"

Well, we went to Shinjuku and work our way to Takadanobaba, and found a small dive outside the station. We ate lightly but imbibed rather heavily in o-sake. I think we finished more than a bottle (one bottle = 1.8 liters)... I think. I don't really remember much after reaching the bottom of the first bottle. What I do recall is paying 18,000 yen--pretty hefty for 24 years ago--and helping my friend throw up onto the tracks from the platform of the Chuo line. I sorta recall being warned by someone to take care of him as he seemed pretty bad off. I was pretty drunk, but I guess I can "appear" more sober... Anyway, I couldn't send him back to school in this condition, so I brought him home... much to the displeasure of my cousin. Hahaha. He was really put out. Alvin is a really square dude; naive as naive gets--even in Tokyo--and he couldn't wait to call Australia to report to my grandparents. All i could do was put my friend in a futon and let him sleep it off. Next morning, I wake up to find my cousn gone to school. I wake up with JU and he's still groggy as hell, but he insisted that he had to go back to school, so I went with him as far as Mitaka Station to make sure he got on the right bus.

But the funniest random meeting I know didn't involve me. Well, at least not directly.

Cont'd next post.

Query: Have you ever encounter someone you haven't seen in ages in the most unexpected places?

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Thursday. 7.24.08 2:40 pm

Given the content of the previous post, I can't figure out why I rented the DVD, Ratatouille. It's a Pixar animation about a rat that finds his way from the countryside to the City of Lights and becomes--get this--a chef at a famous restaurant. Ugh. Rats shit where they eat, and this one is cooking in the restaurant? There are a couple of scenes when there were dozens of rats in one shot crawling through the kitchen pantry. I think M almost fainted.

What was I thinking?

They should have shown the rats shitting around the kitchen, then having the droppings get people sick. That, at the very least, would have been a public service to educate kids that rats are not cute furry little animals but disease carrying vermin.

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Wildlife: Not for animal lovers
Tuesday. 7.22.08 4:02 am

Living in Northern Virginia, in a suburb of Washington DC, has it good side and it's bad. It is, to be a sure, beautiful country. When I first visited DC, I came on a business trip from Japan. I had imagined Virginia as a rural land of tobacco, plantations and a bunch of hayseeds. Boy, was I ever wrong. The taxi ride from Dulles International to the city revealed a country that was quite arboreal. There was no mistaking the suburban housing, the office buildings and shopping centers, but it was beautifully arranged, mixed in unobtrusively with the natural greenery of the area.

When I landed my current teaching gig in DC a few years later, I knew I wanted to live and commute from Virginia. A lot of people prefer to live in the city, but most of these people are the true hayseeds. I was born and raised in LA, lived near San Fransisco for three years, and in Tokyo off and on for about ten years. I know metropolitan when I see it, and DC is not metropolitan. It has its monuments and its government buildings, but the city is basically dead by 12 midnight. Yes, Georgetown is rockin' 'til the wee hours, especially on the weekends, but Georgetown is to DC what Westwood is to LA, a fun dynamic college town within the city proper.

Of course, Virginia is not very metropolitan either. But it doesn't pretend to be. The bars close at 12 midnight, there are lots of police on the road making it a rather secure area, and young men and women I do not know will greet me with a "Good afternoon, sir" when I walk by them on local streets. Yes, Virginia is a part of the south, nice and quaint, but as I said, it doesn't pretend to be urbane, which is all nice and comfy for M and me, with one exception.


I live near the Vienna Metro station, in a community of townhouses that is next to a county park, the same park where Robert Hanssen, an FBI counterintelligence agent, made drop-offs to Russian spies. But this not the kind of wildlife that bothers me. This area is chock-full of critters, from deer and possums to cardinals and blue jays. And in general they stay on their side of the street. Except for squirrels. I have come to view them as rats with furry tails. They climb on our roof, chew on the ledges and drain pipes and even made a hole into our attic causing hundreds of dollars of damage. Grrrr.... No feeding the squirrels, please.

Field mice are also an issue. They usually stay in the field, but when they smell food--like when young people in the neighborhood have parties and don't clean up after themselves as well as they should--they will come to investigate. And, man they know how to find a hole. I found mice droppings in our basement next to the washing machine recently. M wanted them out immediately, of course--you never know what disease rodents might harbor--but when I suggested traps, she wanted humane traps, one where we could catch the critter and release it safely back to the woods in the park. I tried to convince M that mice are smart and persistent, and that the only good mouse were dead one, but she wouldn't hear of it. First I plugged up every hole and crack I could find inside the walls and outside. I used a thing called Great Stuff that is a foam-like compound that sprays from a can, expands and hardens to a consistency that feels like really hard styrofoam. I had hoped that the mice traveled in and out of the house and that I had sealed them out, but I still found fresh mice droppings the next day. In fact, there seemed to be more than before. Ugh! I wondered if I had trapped the mice in by sealing the holes, a thought I soon confirmed when I caught my first glimpse of a mouse scurrying away from a hole I had sealed when I turned on the basement light. It was probably trying to find the original hole. mouse trap

So we went to buy a humane trap at Home Depot that trapped mice in an enclosure from which they cannot escape. Or so the box said. I found out the next day that a little peanut butter--as the instructions explained--will quickly attract a mouse, but the trap door was another story. It was tossed to the side as if the mouse was taunting us--Hah! You think this puny door is gonna keep me in? This mouse checked in but it still checked out of this little rodent motel.

Convinced that I was right, M relented and I set up four small snap traps baited with chunky peanut butter in the basement along the walls where the mouse or mice were obviously travelling. M was lamenting a bit, but I assured her that it was either them or us. And since we pay the mortgage, it was them. The very next morning I found three very dead mice. M was having a fit, so I quickly wrapped the mice in sheets and sheets of newspaper, shoved them into a plastic bag, then into a plastic bag, and then finally into a plastic bag, which I then tossed into the garbage can. I must have washed my hands for about eight minutes. The good news is that I have not seen another set of mice droppings since--its been almost a week--so I think we are rid of our rodent problem for the time being.

Unfortunately, M is now developing a relationship with a rabbit that visits our backyard every morning and late afternoon. I don't think its a wild hare, but rather an escaped pet, for it's too fat to have grown in the woods. She feeds it lettuce, cabbage and the occasional carrot. Some days, she will feed it a variety spring greens, including arugula and basil. It's no wonder that Pyonkichi--yes, M has given it a name--keeps coming back. On a hot day like today, it was stretched out like Cleopatra in our backyard, relaxing after a fine meal of greens. Pyonkichi is obviously getting very comfortable. I keep telling M to stop feeding it because it will start leaving pellets around our yard, and the vegetables she leaves out will only attract a new set of unwanted critters. She acts as though I can no longer speak Japanese.

I'm now hoping some mice will show up so she'll realize the problems of feeding animals that don't belong to us. Well, almost hoping...

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Summer Rerun: Escalator etiquette
Sunday. 7.20.08 7:18 pm

I went to campus recently and experienced again something I wrote about previously. I was  going to provide a link but couldn't find the original post on Xanga. Then I remembered that I posted it elsewhere when I had gone on hiatus due to some issues that arose about my online identity. Technically, it is not a Xanga "repost", but it's still a rerun as I'm sure some of you may have read it previously. And yet here it is because, well... it's just plain disgusting.

I went to work today as I always do. I take the train into town, and for me it is an easy commute. I lived in Japan for a number of years and now truly appreciate mass transportation: no wear and tear on the car, lower insurance premiums, no headaches of sitting in a car stuck in a two-lane parking lot (route 66). A five minute skip from my house to the station, 25 minutes on the Metro to DC, then a 3 minute walk to my office. Not a hard commute at all.

Now, I usually run a little late, what my friends used to call JST (Japan Standard Time) which means about 20 minutes later than everyone else. As a result, I always end up running to the station and walking up and down the escalators. Which brings me to my point: There is such a thing as escalator etiquette. In DC, anyway. The standard unwritten rule is "stand to the right, pass to the left." When I'm with Mus... uh, I mean, the wifey--geez, now that I think of it, what should I call her now?--anyway, when we're on the escalator, we will usually stand behind each other to allow others to walk up to our left. But when I'm by myself, I am the one passing to the left. Many out-of-towners are unfamiliar with this rule and I usually don't say anything. I just stop behind them unless I'm really late: "Excuse, I'd need to get through." I have had people roll their eyes. "Look, Herman. They're all show-offs, walking up escalators." Or, "Geez, what's his rush?" I want to say something like, Look Harriette, not all of us are on vacation. But I usually think better of it, and just ignore them. Another basic rule is to take the elevator when you are lugging around a large suitcase or stroller or bicycle. Not only does it block the entire width, it is can be dangerous trying to balance something oversized on the steps of the escalator.

But the one rule of etiqutte that everyone must absolutely follow was ignored today, by a middle aged man walking up the escalator in front of me. He obviously didn't realize that one must never, absolutely never fart on the escalator. Walking up the escalator as I usually do, my face is around butt level of the person ahead of me. I get the first whiff... Oh man! Who cut the cheese! But I'm caught in no-man's land. I want to avoid this malodorous chunk of air--man! my nose hair was curling--but I can't step to the right, as the people who are not walking upstairs are standing on every step. I can't just stop because there are others walking up behind me. Even worse, I can't help but think that the person behind me probably thinks I cut the cheese! I wanted to turn around and appeal, It's not me! Ugh, I hate it when people are so inconsiderate...

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Dude! Are you serious?!?
Friday. 7.18.08 5:16 pm

There's a summer reality show on ABC on Tuesday evenings called, I Survived a Japanese Game Show. I was looking forward to watching this, but as usual I forgot about it. Fortunately I was able to watch the full episodes online. It's a show where contestants go to Japan and participate in a Japanese-like game show, competing in teams to do ridiculous stunts for the chance to win $250,000. The stunts are funny, particularly for Americans as they are fairly unique, like crashing into a wall in a velcro suit to simulate a bug being squashed on a windshield, riding a tricycle on a conveyor belt whose speed is controlled by team mates pedalling bicycles, and becoming a human crane game trying to pick up large stuffed animals. What makes this a reality show is that one person from the losing side is sent home. Team mates conspire aginst each other to remain in Japan and continue to compete for the cash. Drama, drama, drama.

The Japanese game show is called "Maji de" which translates as "Are you serious?!?" In the show, they translate it as "you must be crazy" but mine is the correct one. This is not surprising as a lot of the subtitles are also mistranslated, probably to avoid insulting too many of the American viewers. Of course, it is not a real show. It was made up by Japanese specifically for this reality show, revealing all the crazy ideas they have had over the years. While this may seem fun for Americans, it is rather passe in the eyes of most Japanese. Velcro suits? They were doing that before I came to DC back in 1996. They have another show called Wipeout, which is a knock off of Takeshi's Castle, where contestants brave an obstacle course of water hazards, punching boxing gloves and large rubber balls.

What is fascinating is the difference in approach by each "culture". In Japan, most of these shows allow a large number of contestants. Takeshi's Castle starts out at least one hundred contestants, but when a contestant fails at a stunt, he or she is immediately disqualified and sent packing. In the US version, they can fall in the mud and splash into the water, but they can still continue in the competion in an attempt to qualify either by not being voted out (Survived) or recording a good time (Wipeout). In other words, the Japanese contestant competes against the obstacle--man against a fixed goal, like climbing Mt. Fuji. Conversely, the US contestants plays against one another--man proving he is better than his fellow man. This means, of course, that in the US version, there is always a winner. In the Japanese version, there are times when there is no winner, suggesting once again that in the US, it is the goal, the destination that is important, whereas in Japan, it is the journey. Sorta.

The last leg of Wipeout is held at night with spotlights and flames illuminating the course. This is similar to my favorite obstacle course show, Sasuke, which is aired twice a year as a special in Japan. Sasuke is the name of a famous ninja and so is aired in the US on G4 under the name of Ninja Warrior. The good thing about this is that instead of Americanizing it by changing the rules and contestants, they air it as is, mostly in Japanese with subtitles. However, it is heavily editted to focus on the best or funniest contestants, and divided into segments to show in 30 minute broadcasts. The original is a single three to four hour special. In Ninja Warrior, contestants--beginning with a field of 100--try to complete four incredibly difficult obstacle courses. The contestants include Japanese comedians, firemen, a gas station attendant, as well as former and current Olympic athletes--including US gymnast Paul Hamm twice. In the ten years of this show, only two have completed the course, one of them twice, Nagano Makoto, a fisherman from Miyazaki prefecture, who stands all of 5'4". The reason for this is because every competition is more difficult than the one held half a year earlier. Another major factor is that no one can test run the course first. It is do or die. If your foot or hand even touches the murky muddy water or if you step out of bounds for even a second, you are eliminated. This seems to be in step with the legend of Sasuke, for a real ninja would have only one chance at any given obstacle himself. Can you imagine crossing a span of 15 feet by clinging to a curtain? Or crossing on a ledge using only your fingertips?!? And the ledge is broken into three sections of different heights so you have to swing yourself over to reach the next ledge... again, on your fingertips. Everytime they introduce a new obstacle, I just sit back and mutter, Dude, are you serious?!? The video below is an example of a level three in the 13th competition. The twentieth is the most recent and all shows are repeated over and over on G4.

They even have one for women now, called Kunoichi, where there is more focus on speed and balance rather than forearm and shoulder strength.

Now I don't know whch is a better approach, the US pitting contestant against contestant, or the Japanese way of contestant against the course/obstacle/time. Both are interesting and fun to watch, but I must say I prefer the Japanese way. Even if there are often no winners, you know that the contestants gave it their all. They can't point fingers at each other for their failures, and it even allows for comraderie as they root for each other to do well since they are not in competition with each other.

Query: Which would you prefer? Contestant vs. contestant? Or all contestants fighting individually against a common foe (or themselves)?

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When learning Japanese...
Wednesday. 7.16.08 10:05 pm

The other day, I wrote about my my eye surgery when I was in Japan. The Greatest_Pip left a comment that suggested that he thought my English was pretty good for a guy who had been in the US for 12 years--since 1996. Haha, I'd like to take a bow, but I had to tell him that basically my English is as good as anyone who was born, raised and educated in the US. Which elicited the following:

Wow, that's pretty awesome. How long did it take you to become fluent in Japanese? Do you already spend enough time in a week teaching Japanese to not want to give tips in your free time?

Actually, yes, I do spend a enough time in a week teaching. But tips on Xanga are free, mostly because they are not that big of a deal, are mostly common-sensical, and advice means nothing if the recipient won't heed it. I wish there was something magic potion, or a hidden incantation. But the bottom line is simple: passion, diligence and determination.

Of course, these three apply to anything you may endeavor to do, but with regard to Japanese, you have to have a passion for the language. It is fun enough, and today maybe even cool enough, to dabble in it. Anime and Wii has ensured the Japanese language a place in the hierarchy of US pop culture. The title sensei, which some whom I have met here on Xanga call me--oh I miss ya' SleepingCutie!--is fairly ubiquitous. But I was shocked that many knew the word tanuki (badger-dog) from a game--was it Mario? But a passion for anime or games does not equal a passion for Japanese language. It is not as hard most people will have you believe, but it is significantly different enough to make people throw their hands in the air in frustration. So it takes a passion for the language to compel to to continue where others have given up. I love Japanese. The language is, to me, sonorous and expressive. And so contextual. Sometimes all you have to say is are (that), and the listener will know exactly what you mean. Or you can say, in the appropriate context, Watashi wa hanba-ga- desu (I am a hamburger), and the person taking your order will say thank you for your order without a snicker. I find these situations interesting and compelling, which stokes my passion for the language.

Now I said that it is not as hard as some make it out to be, but that means it isn't complicated. It doesn't mean you don't have to study, or that you'll pick it up eventually just by living in Japan. It takes study. And lots of it. Kanji is a good example. One character can have one meaning but different readings depending on its context. 女 (woman) has a Japanese reading, onna, which is simply the application of the indigenous pronunciation of the concept to the written term imported from China. When paired with other kanji to represent concepts imported from China, it can be read differently, as in 女性 josei (female) and 女房 nyoubou (wife, lady),  The different pronunciations are simply a reflection of when these terms were imported to Japan, i.e. which Chinese Dynasty. The fact that there are different pronunciations is a cultural-historical phenomenon, and one simply needs to memorize the different words. And memorization is not complicated; it's just a matter of diligence. Some may find the idea of different pronunciations depending on context to be ridiculous, but it is no different in English. Take the string of roman letters: "ough".  If you place different consonants around it, you get a different pronunciation for "ough"--cough, dough, though, thought, through. I think Ricky Ricardo had a hell of a time with this in I Love Lucy. He just had to memorize the different pronunciations.

Finally, there is determination, which is in many ways a compbination of the first two. You simply can't give up. You have to be determined to learn this. And you have to understand that this is a lifelong love affair. I have been  studying Japanese for over 35 years, and I'm still studying. Am I fluent. I guess sorta, but I don't know what fluent really means. Japanese is simply too vast and too deep to master completely. Even the Japanese haven't mastered it. Come to think of it, I know a lot of Americans who have yet to master English. I'd bet you've met some, too.

There are strategies to implement that could ensure retention and mastery of the different aspects of Japanese learing, but that will be for another day, if there is any interest. Just make sure you bring your checkbook. J/K J/K J/K...

Query: So how many of you knew what a tanuki is?

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